I woke up this morning to the tumultuous rattling of my mind, which I believe manifested as a nightmare. What I was woken up to was the experience of what I thought was the next big one: an LA earthquake and two nasty rounds of it. The tremor lasted long and the first episode of it was steady, mild, harmless, nonetheless, never-ending. It was a bit pleasant actually. The second round, however, made itself felt and I questioned in that mid-sleep, mid-awake state whether or not I should actually blink open my eyes and run out. I was thinking if it were the real thing, I was so happy that I was not alone. My friend was sleeping over on the couch in the living room. But, I couldn’t distinguish the dream from reality. This is usually the state of my mind, as well. It is commonly classified as stable, mild, harmless, steady, but can quite easily turn uproarious. This process is never-ending.
Born and raised in LA, I am still unsure what the right thing to do is when it strikes. As a child, earthquakes terrified me a lot. As an adult, I was happy to be living in New York and Barcelona, where quakes are not commonplace. In the early 90s, my family lived in the valley close to the epicenter during the ’94 Northridge quake. At the time my pregnant mother, my cousin and I went through what seemed to be, to a 10 year old boy at least, the eventual cause of our death. I vividly remember that morning. My cousin and I were sleeping in my room. She was a heavy sleeper. I wasn’t. We had a hard time waking her up around 4am, if I remember correctly. We decided, with my mother’s direction of course, that we had to get downstairs somehow. The sounds of the natural disaster made it appear as if the stairs were all crumbled. The shaking was never-ending, sort of like the first version of my nightmare early this morning. Somehow my mother found a flashlight and we soon discovered that the staircase was just fine, but glass and silverware were now flying out of the kitchen cabinets downstairs. We could hear all of it, but unable to make sense to any of it. A huge lamp fell and shattered in the living room, which blocked the easy entrance to the kitchen. We made it to the bottom of the stairs and my cousin fainted. My mother told me I had to make sure she wakes up and we used the good old fashioned slap on the cheek method, which is highly discouraged these days apparently. I was 10. She was 11. My mom was 35 and pregnant with my sister Michelle. I kept slapping my cousin and telling her to wake up. In retrospect, I thought she was dying and I didn’t want her to because I loved her. Because, that is what happens during earthquakes. People die. My mother was trying to get water and I remember hearing her make it through the piles of glass that had shattered in the kitchen. This was the 1994 Northridge earthquake for me. Months after, I lived in fear. I even got to go to an Armenian witch doctor, who, “cured me of my fear”, by putting heavy pressure on what I later realized during rolfing sessions as a 32 year old yoga teacher, were my psoas muscles she was releasing. She also did some other “woo-woo” witchcraftery and it helped I guess. I still fear the tumultuous state of our earth, but what I fear most now is when my mind is unsettled with unbalanced faults.
I woke up this morning after months of being both very “on” and very “off”. It hasn’t been an easy winter. It has been a season of transition and uncertainty. But, I woke up to another fortunate and blessed day, I’d say, because I woke up breathing. I wake up each morning and am grateful for the morning breath I take. I went straight for my iPhone, something which I’m still trying to avoid (every morning). It was still dark out and I was happy I did not have to deal with an earthquake. I began scrolling and reading what most would immediately label as “depressing” posts. They were inspiring. The first was a Facebook post by one of my favorite yoga teachers in LA, Jenny Aurthur, talking about her family history of depression.
The other piece was recently published on YogaPoetica.com written by Molly O’Neill, who is a friend and colleague. She expresses her raw feelings and emotions, dealing with her sense of self, before and after her fathers passing. She writes, “I honestly don’t know how I survived those months after he was gone. I was crippled by grief, crumpled on the floor at night.” All of us deal with grief differently, but Molly credits how the practice of yoga, the practice of teaching, in her case, helped her cope with her pain. I related with this as this was the only way I knew how to deal with on the daily during my separation and eventual divorce years ago. My high school students at the end of the school year, when I explained to them why I was leaving Spain and my job told me that “they never knew I was going through anything.” I guess I did a great job masking my emotions. I needed separation and a change of scenery. I needed family and friends. I needed compassion, love and to be taken care of. I needed to leave the profession for a moment, because I was giving too much. I knew I would find all that in L.A. I was wrong. I found all of it within, in LA.
I kept looking at bodies and coming up with sequences and telling people to breathe. And after a while, I found myself breathing with them. I took all the love I couldn’t give my dad and laid it on my students. Turning outward allowed me to get far enough away from the pain to begin recovering, little by little.
When I initially began writing about depression, it was difficult. However, I was fortunate to have found the support and coping mechanisms I needed to feel strong about writing something so raw and personal. I had found the practice of yoga again, which helped me deal with a lot of the mind clutter and the negativity, giving me the courage to openly put it out there. However, this past week, I came to the realization that I had stopped writing. I realized that negative thoughts have been arising more during the last 3 months, as doubt and uncertainty plague my mind. Important life decisions, choices, rejections and LIFE have numbed me from functioning at my best. Even though I can not compare what I’ve been going through this winter to anything else I’ve experienced before, and there is really no point for comparison, I realize that I have to constantly deal with the instability of my mind. As Jenny mentions in her Facebook post, “when I’m taking care of myself 100% I can keep the darkness at bay. Sometimes I get arrogant and let it slip and I put my self care on the back burner. Or I become wrapped up in another person and put their needs first. It’s mind blowing how quickly I forget myself. And the irony is that it’s a lose lose situation because if I’m not taking care of myself, nothing turns out well.”
There is no day off for this sort of work. This morning, the metaphorical lightbulb shined and I began asking myself, have I not been as expressive because I am ashamed of the state of my mind is in? Have I regressed? Is it only when my mind is grand and brilliant that I am allowed to put words on to paper? Do I not get to share both the ups and the downs of my mind? Do I need to wait until it’s all better again (because it will be) to write about it? That is when I decided to put everything off for the morning and sit down and write. I made my coffee and I wrote.